GENERAL ARTICLES

The Pike's No Piker

We always thought the pike was a very lowly fish but this admirer says we’re wrong. What do you think ?

ROYD E. BEAMISH July 15 1935
GENERAL ARTICLES

The Pike's No Piker

We always thought the pike was a very lowly fish but this admirer says we’re wrong. What do you think ?

ROYD E. BEAMISH July 15 1935

The Pike's No Piker

We always thought the pike was a very lowly fish but this admirer says we’re wrong. What do you think ?

ROYD E. BEAMISH

HE’S A SWASHBUCKLING, hard-hitting fighter, and a cannibal to boot. He’s rough, tough and hard to handle under any conditions, and he glories in sheer brute strength and a natural “killer”

instinct of the type that put Jack Dempsey on the pinnacle of boxing fame. He has been known to take fish, flesh and fowl into his massive gullet, and he’s always ready for fight.

And yet, the Northern pike, who plays the rôle of devil in Canada’s greatest fisherman’s paradise— Lake Nipigon— and cuts a broad swath among the other breeds of fish, remains unhonored and unsung by the very people who should know him best.

The Nipigon has been eulogized in song and story. Anglers of world repute have sung its paeans of praise, and thousands of men from both Canada and the United States have tasted the choice firm flesh, of the brook trout which has given the area its fame. But few of the resident anglers, who live within a few miles of this great fishing ground, have ever bothered to think of the Northern pike as a game fish. The very name is enough to send the average Canadian sportsman into horrified pantomime that suggests complete and thorough disgust.

“Pike?” he asks with raised eyebrows and an outraged expression; that is. if he condescends to say anything at all. “Come. I said fishing.” Then, as if that were the final edict of some reigning despot, he departs in high dudgeon, leaving you feeling somewhat as if your hands needed washing.

For pike, to the average Canadian, seems to be regarded with utter disdain and no little scorn, both of which increase in direct ratio to his proximity to first-class trout waters.

Those doughty anglers who have conquered this sense of shame, and steeled themselves sufficiently against the ridicule of their comrades to venture forth openly in search of Esox Lucius, however, regard the long-snouted, big-jawed creature with a wholesome respect and a genuine admiration. With almost fanatical zeal they haunt the grounds where pike are known to have more or less permanent abode, and revel in their battles with the fish their friends eschew so violently.

Their ranks are slowly but steadily growing. The sceptic listens to their tales of fifteen, twenty and thirty-minute battles, hears of the impressive catches, and is. partially at least, converted. Once he has caught a pike himself, he joins the ranks of the missionaries and talks as hard and fast as the rest in an effort to convert his unenlightened brethren along identical lines.

For the pike is. without a doubt, one of the finest of game fish. He is ferocious and a real fighter right up to his last gasp. I le can be artful, but he is much more likely to rely on courage and sheer dynamic force to get himself out of diffi-

culties once he is hooked. In the phrase of the moment, he can take it.

A Ferocious Fighter

HTHE NORTHERN PIKE abounds in the Nipigon coun

•L try, and his long green body and ugly snout lurks ii almost every weedy bay, where he hides himself most of the time, darting from cover only long enough to lunge at his unsuspecting prey, which consists chiefly of the myriads of suckers which also abound. His appetite is anything but finicky, however, as will be revealed later on, and it is a most prodigious appetite, too.

The pike is the gourmand of fresh-water fish. He will charge your bait as though ravenously hungry, smash into the lure as though he hadn’t eaten for weeks, battle with all the power and ferocity of a thoroughly trained prize-fighter, and on being opened up after the catch will be found to have as many as five and six pounds of undigested fish in his stomach—fish he must have eaten a scant few minutes before the catch.

The pike is built for speed, too. Streamlined like the most modern of underwater craft, he can dart through the water, for all his size, with amazing speed, and his death-dealing mouth clamps down on his prey with a dreadful swiftness that keeps his stomach full and the lakes depopulated of fingerlings and even much larger fish.

Food is the one thing that will stir him to action, and a lifelike lure will galvanize him into his famous charge like a flash. To see the long green body streak through the water with its mouth wide open and big beady eyes gleaming is a sight long to be remembered by the fisherman. Whether he has caught one pike or a hundred, the thrill of that charge is ever present.

There is a jar and a momentary pause as he hits the lure and is struck. Then he heads for the bottom of the lake. A sharp tug sends him into fighting action. Splash ! He hurls his massive body almost clear of the water, and as he catches sight ol the man behind the rod he seems to be seized with an uncontrollable rage.

Smack ! He falls back into the water and is coming straight for you as though he meant to leap right up on the bank and bowl you over like a ten-pin; then a lightning swerve and he’s racing off at right angles again, while your reel screams in protest.

Then is when the real thrill comes in pike fishing. If you have hooked

better on a five-ounce rod and eighteenpound-test line, you’ve got a job on your hands and no mistake. The Northern pike, cousin to the famous muskellunge, is almost every bit as ferocious, and his blazing charges put your skill and your tackle to the highest test.

And though he relies chiefly on his power and aggressiveness, he knows all the tricks, make no mistake about that. He will sound rapidly and sulk for seconds that seem minutes, then he will flash to the surface again and try a new method of attack.

Baffled in these manoeuvres, his favorite action is characteristic of his genus and his alone. He breaks water, not as other fish do, in a gigantic leap, but by thrusting his head above water and shaking it like a dog, as though trying to shake out the barb that holds him. A dozen times he may do this in the space of a few minutes, and then back he goes to the zigzag rushes that churn up foam for a radius of fifty feet or more—if you have enough line.

His vitality is amazing, and unless you are a real expert, a twentyto thirtypound pike on the light tackle described can keep you fully occupied for half an although seasoned pike fisherman can dis-

or more, although a patch one even larger in as short a space as twenty minutes if conditions are right.

Fighter that he is, his struggle does not end when he is gaffed and drawn to land, or into the boat if you arc fishing from wrater. Sharp teeth line his cavernous mouth, and even with his lasp gasp he is able to snap those long, hinged jaws with telling effect. No fewer than twelve stitches, administered in two’s and three’s at various times, adorn the fingertips of one pike-fishing friend of mine, and he will probably add to his collection this summer.

Pike Stories

WE SPOKE about the prodigious appetite of the Northern pike a while back. We referred, also, to cannibalism and mentioned fish, flesh and fowl in his dietary. Intriguing statements, those—and statements that may be regarded with lifted brow and sardonic smile. More fish stories !

But they are true fish stories nevertheless, and serve to give some inkling as to just how truly devilish is this

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Mephistopheles of the Nipigon. For instance there was the incident of two years ago when Eddie and I were fishing pike in our favorite spot, Black Sturgeon Bay on Lake Nipigon. There is a lot of weedy growth in that bay, and conditions are just made to order for pike fishing.

We had been casting for nearly an hour that afternoon without any success when a pike rose to Eddie’s bait. Eddie struck and the battle was on. It lasted scarcely five minutes, however, and as Eddie reeled in, he said over his shoulder:

“Just a little one. Bet it doesn’t go over ten pounds.”

He leaned over to get a glimpse of his first victim, and just as he did so there was a sudden swirl of water, a vigorous tug at the line, and then his line went absolutely dead. He reeled in quickly and brought in a small pike, just as he had prophesied—only it had been torn in half, and the tail end was missing! It is obvious, of course, that the pike he caught could not have shaken himself in two. There was only one answer. A bigger brother had played cannibal and was now digesting the stem half of Eddie’s fish.

That was my first glimpse of cannibalism among the pike, and it has since been borne out by others. I knew, of course, that pike gorged on other fish and did not spurn their own minnows, but it was a distinct surprise to learn that a Northern pike would eat adult fish of his own kind like that.

In view of that incident, the next two I am going to recall may be received with a

little less astonishment on the part of the writer. It was just last summer that a party of us were homeward bound after a pikefishing trip, sailing over Lake Nipigon in a sturdy if none-too-fast motor boat. A hawk of some kind circled warily over the water a few hundred yards off our starboard bow. We watched him lazily as he peered from his height ujxm the lake below. Suddenly he hurtled down out of the sky like a plummet and smashed into the water with his claws extended fiercely for the strike. But as he touched the lake there was a swift commotion and the hawk disappeared completely under water. We watched for several minutes and then headed the boat over to the sjx>t where he had gone under. Not a trace could we find of the bird. Again, the only explanation was—pike.

The same year an even more unusual tale was related to me by a man who swore to its authenticity by every oath known to fishermen. This chap had a fox terrier which was accustomed to accompany his master on fishing trips. On the day in question, fisherman and dog made their way to a spot in the lake where good pike fishing was generally to lx; had. and the man paddled out to an island, leaving the little dog on the mainland, a scant hundred feet away.

Not to be outdone, the terrier leaped into the water and began to swim for the island. He was making good progress and thoroughly enjoying himself when suddenly he burst into an agonized yelping, threshed the water vigorously and began swimming frantically, ki-yiping and squealing in a frenzy of pain and fright. When he reached the island, blood dripped from his hind leg, and the limb was punctured and torn in places by vicious teeth, the marks of which could plainly be made out on some portions of the wound. What else but a pike could have done it?

I do not vouch for this story, nor do I attempt to draw any conclusion from it, but there it is as it was told me, and coupled with the other two instances, it adds a little higher color to the assertion ihdtEsox Lucius is truly a devil in our fisherman’s paradise.

A Fine Fish

AND THERE we have a twofold picture of the Northern pike. As a fighter he ranks in the highest class, and, caught on light tackle, will provide sport fit for the most ardent angler and the fightin’est fisherman. As a gentleman he leaves, perhaps, something to be desired, and he is most certainly a devil.

But there is yet a third side. As table fare he is ample in both size and succulence, although spurned by some because of his numerous bones. Pike caught in cold water have a firm flesh with a distinctive flavor that is extremely pleasant when properly cooked. Should he be taken from warm waters, however, he is best left alone, for only the highly imaginative could then term him appetizing.

There are some waters in which pike are only edible at certain seasons of the year— genorally spring and fall—for in the summer the water warms up and the pike grows flabby and tasteless. The Nipigon is crystal clear and icy cold from season to season, however, and for that reason a Nipigon pike is both edible and appetizing at any time of year.

And so I have found that, contrary to popular belief in these regions, the pike is a workman worthy of his hire; a fresh-water prize amply repaying the angler for his trouble both in thrills and savoriness— in his natural habitat or fried crisply on a hot skillet.

About the worst that can be said of the Northern pike is that he is a glutton. A glutton in appetite and a glutton for punishment. A six-pound trout or a five-pound bass will give you a lot of exciting moments and not a few thrills, it is true; but put a thirty-pound pike on the end of a five-and-ahalf-ounce rod, and then, but not until, you will know the real meaning of that one word, "Dynamite.”

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